Tag Archives: apartheid

Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba, A Revolutionary Musician


Picture of Miriam Makeba

She was affectionately known as Mama Africa: her real name was Miriam Makeba. She was a South African musician. She was a revolutionary. And with music as her weapon of choice, she bravely fought against Apartheid, bringing the plight of millions of black South Africans to the collective consciousness of the world.

This poignant quote of hers encapsulates Miriam Makeba:

I look at an ant and I see myself: a native South African, endowed by nature with a strength much greater than my size so I might cope with the weight of a racism that crushes my spirit.

The picture she painted comparing herself to an ant is very apt. She was a young, charismatic, vivacious and beautiful black woman who appeared  fragile, but beneath her vulnerable exterior, she was extremely resilient.

She had to be to bear the burden of white racism and apartheid that from her birth, had done everything to reduce her to a non-being. This formed her anti-racism attitude. It made her aware of white injustice from an early age.

Miriam Makeba meme image

Makeba came from humble roots. She was born on the fourth of March 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (a traditional African healer).

I remember her saying in one of her interviews that she inherited her ability to heal with music from her mother who healed with herbs.

Her father was a Xhosa; he died when she was six years old. Eighteen days after her birth, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African traditional beer brewed using cornmeal and malt. It was illegal to brew and sell this homemade beer.

Her mother spent six months in prison together with Miriam Makeba. The experience left an indelible mark on her. The music she would make decades later would be grounded in the life and struggle of her people.

In a nutshell, it was social commentary capturing the many facets of life for Africans living in the townships of Apartheid South Africa.

Music was part and parcel of her formative years. She sang in the choir of Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria. It was a primary school she attended for eight years.

Makeba had her only child at the age of eighteen in 1950. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time. Her first husband, James Kubay, left her then.

Pic of Miriam Makeba

Her singing skills were honed in the 1950s when she was a part of the Manhattan Brothers, they sang African jazz. However, the union didn’t last.

She left soon after to sing with her all-woman group, The Skylarks. Their music was a concoction of Jazz and traditional South African melodies.

Pata Pata which she released in 1956 catapulted her to the top. It was written by a fellow Southern African musician and friend of hers: Dorothy Masuka came from Zimbabwe, then known as Southern Rhodesia. The song was played on all radio stations and made Makeba into a household name.

A few years later, she appeared on an anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa, produced and directed by American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. The viewers response was awesome and Rogosin secured her a visa to attend the twenty-fourth Venice Film Festival in Italy.

It won the Critics Award. It opened up new vistas for her. She suddenly found herself in the lead female role in King Kong, the Broadway-inspired South African musical.

She later met the charismatic musician and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte on her travels in London. He was instrumental in helping her secure entry to the United States. He was equally instrumental in helping her rise to fame in the US.

Picture of Harry Belafonte with Miriam Makeba

Harry Belafonte was instrumental in paving Miriam Makeba’s rise to fame and entry in the US.

However, disaster struck. Her mother passed away. On her attempts to return, she discovered her South African passport had been cancelled. The injustice radicalised her; it strengthened her resolve to fight apartheid.

She buried herself into her music and signed with RCA Victor. She released her first U.S. studio album. She named it Miriam Makeba. About two years later, she sang with Belafonte at John F. Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden.

However, she didn’t attend the after party because she was not feeling well. Kennedy insisted on meeting her so Belafonte arranged a car to pick her up.

Three years after her first studio album, she released the second, The World of Miriam Makeba.

It peaked at number eight-six on the Billboard 200. However, her fight with Apartheid regime was raging in the background. Months later, she appeared at the United Nations to testify against apartheid.

The Apartheid regime retaliated: they revoked her citizenship and right to return to her motherland. She was left country-less. However, good fortune followed in her footsteps. There were no shortages of countries willing to serve Mama Africa.

Ghana, Guinea and Belgium stepped up and offered her international passports putting Apartheid South Africa to shame. From that point, she became a citizen of the world. The world was dying to own this African songbird.

She held nine passports in her lifetime and was granted honorary citizenship in ten countries. That was ironic for a person rejected by her country because she dared to speak against the Apartheid regime’s inhumane treatment of her people.

Her life was one of lifetime struggle.

She married another musician, Hugh Masekela, in 1964. They first met on the set of King Kong where Masekela was a member of the cast. However, it was short lived. They divorced two years later.

That same year in 1966, Miriam Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording for her collaboration with Harry Belafonte for An Evening with Belafonte/ Makeba.

Cover of An Evening With Belafonte/ Makeba

The album that netted Makeba’s Grammy for Best Folk Music Award with Harry Belafonte.

The album focussed on the plight of black South Africans under Apartheid. It set new ground blending Zulu, Sotho and Swahili songs in an authentic setting. Her fame was growing.

She went on to release some of her most memorable and popular songs in the US such as Malaika and the Click Song [Qongqothwane in Xhosa].

One often overlooked aspect of Miriam Makeba is her rebellious spirit. She had an iron will. She was unconventional.

At a time when many artists and women were embracing huge wigs and white standards of beauty, Makeba embraced her African roots.

She was a bonafide star but she shunned makeup. She refused to curl her hair for shows. She was a forerunner of what many would term the “Afro look”. It is such an absurd misnomer. She was simply being herself and looking the way God created her, black and beautiful.

Her stance confounded critics. The media didn’t know how to pigeonhole her. Trouble and controversy surrounded her because of her maverick ways. But her star quality was undeniable.

She released Pata Pata in the US in 1967 and it became an instant hit sending her reputation even higher.

However, the following year she married a young radical who was a member of the Black Panther Party, and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee leader.

Picture of Miriam Makeba and Stokely Carmichael

Miriam Makeba’s marriage to Trinidad born Stokeley Carmichael caused a lot of controversy. It was the beginning of a huge fallout with power brokers in the musical industry.

His name was Stokeley Carmichael. He would later change his name to Kwame Ture. His name was an amalgamation of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure‘s name and surname.

The marriage caused huge controversy in the United States because Carmichael was a civil rights activist and considered too much of a radical because of his advocacy for self defence against state brutality in the US.

The power brokers and gatekeepers of the music industry reacted by cancelling her record deals and tours. It cost her a fortune. But she remained steadfast and refused to have the music industry define who she could love. She stood by her man and her decision.

Picture of Miriam a Makeba with Stokeley Carmichael

Consequently, the couple bid farewell to America and relocated to Guinea where President Ahmed Sekou Toure welcomed them with open arms. Guinea was home to Makeba for fifteen years. It became her home away from home.

The couple were close to the president and his wife Andree. Stokeley worked closely with the president while Makeba was appointed Guinea’s official to the United Nations. This was a public relations coup for Toure.

Miriam Makeba was rewarded with the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986 for her new role. Her marriage to Carmichael lasted until 1973. The toll had taken its effect on the couple.

Picture of Miriam Makeba with Stokeley Carmichael

She continued to perform in Africa, Europe and Asia and stayed clear of America which had rejected her because of her love for Stokeley Carmichael. She found herself at one of the most historic events to be held in Africa.

She was one of the entertainers at the Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.

The following year she addressed the United Nations again. Makeba used her profile to raise awareness of the plight of her people and pushing for freedom snd equal rights.

She didn’t think twice about using her star quality and charm to put the cause of freedom above her own career. Black liberation was her motivation.

Tragedy struck again. Her daughter Bongi passed away. She was more than just her daughter. She was her friend, confidant, collaborator and song writer on unconventional projects such as the Tribute to Malcolm X.

As usual her mettle and never say die attitude got her through the difficulties.

She met Paul Simon through her ex Hugh Masekela. He introduced the pair and months later they were on the road of the historic Graceland Tour. It took her mind off the death of her daughter.

Two concerts were held in Harare, Zimbabwe. I remember watching them on TV. The shows were billed as Graceland: The African Concert. It was an exquisite show. I was mesmerised watching Paul Simon performing with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

However, Miriam Makeba stole the show and my heart though she was much too old for me. Nevertheless, I had a crush for this woman whose aura radiated way beyond the TV screen. I can understand why Carmichael and Masekela and others fell for her.

Makeba was a strong woman. She was outspoken. She was a revolutionary. She was an artist and unconventional. She attracted men with similar strengths to hers. It is possible that this is why their unions were short lived.

She had a thing for strong black men who were about black liberation and Black Power. If she was not with them physically, she was with them mentally and spiritually.

They were the subjects of her music. They were her muses. There was a two way exchange of energy fuelling the fight for liberation. Her projects on Malcolm X. and Samora Machel illustrate her awareness of the icons of the Black liberation struggle.

The tour worked its magic and brought record executives back to their senses. Warner Bros signed her up and she released Sangoma [Healer], in honour of her mother who was a sangoma. It was her way of paying tribute to her and dealing with that tragedy that seemed to dog her.

The album consisted of accappella healing chants. Her autobiography Makeba: My story followed shortly after. It was published and translated into numerous European languages.

She soon returned to what she did equally well – getting under the skin of the Apartheid Regime. She performed at Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute held at Wembley Stadium in London on the 11th of June 1988.

It was broadcast to 67 countries and garnered an audience of about 600 million. The purpose of this event was to call for the release of the struggle icon Nelson Mandela.

It didn’t do her any favours with the Apartheid regime which was nearing its doomed shelf life and squirming under the glare of the world. The pressure was too much and the cracks began to appear.

Two years later, President Frederik de Klerk unbanned the ANC [African National Congress] and other banned organisations. His announcement that Mandela was to be released sent shockwaves across the world.

Mandela was finally released on 11 February 1990. I remember the moment he was released, walking hand in hand with Winnie Mandela and waving to an ocean of supporters.

Mandela never forgot the efforts of Makeba. He persuaded her to return. She promptly returned at his invitation and reassurances for her safety. Three decades after she left, she was finally back home to reap the rewards of her sweat and tears.

She marked her return with another album, Eyes on Tomorrow. It was a collaborative effort with Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and her ex and lifetime collaborator – Hugh Masekela.

Her return home was magical. She made an enchanting appearance in an episode of The Cosby Show. Now, she could have some fun. A role in Sarafina followed the same year. It was a role befitting her role in the struggle.

She played Angelina, the mother of Sarafina. The film follows the footsteps of students involved in the 1976’s  Soweto youth uprising. She returned to the studio and released, Sing Me A Song.

Good fortune continued to follow her and her life of struggle seemed to be behind her. Miriam Makeba was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in October 1999.

The following year she was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album category for her album Homeland. Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn for the New York City based record label Putumayo World Music produced it.

However, Mama Africa was touched by the suffering she saw in Africa. Away from the glare of the limelight, she rolled up her sleeves and worked with Graça Machel-Mandela; she was the South African first lady. They worked with children suffering from HIV/AIDS, child soldiers, and the physically handicapped.

Awards and accolades followed soon after. Makeba received the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin. It was awarded for outstanding services to peace and international understanding in 2001.

Many others followed. She was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. She embarked on a farewell tour in 2005, performing concerts in all the countries she visited during her years in exile or working life.

Tribute shows were done in her memory at the Barbican in London and the Festival d’Ile de France. The latter was hosted by another prominent musician and activist Angelique Kidjo from Benin and a Grammy Award winner.

A documentary, Mama Africa, about her life also followed providing insight into her long and colourful career and personal life. It cemented her legacy as a musician and a revolutionary.

Miriam Makeba dedicated her life to fight injustice and wherever she found it she fought it. So it is no coincidence that on the 9th of November 2008, she was performing at a concert organised to support Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camora.

The Camora is a mafia like organisation found in the Region of Campania.

Mama Africa suffered a heart attack after performing the hit, Pata Pata, that brought her to the world’s attention. The doctors at the Pinetta Grande clinic were unable to revive her.

She passed away doing the two things she loved doing – music and fighting for freedom. It was typical of Miriam Makeba to sacrifice her life to causes she believed in even if it cost her comfort or her life. She always put others before herself which is the opposite of what most musicians do today.

It is not only her music that made her such a loved person. It was her humanitarian and civil rights activism that garnered the respect of the world. Unlike most musicians today, she was outspoken and refused to be silenced by the corporations or those in the corridors of power. She spoke truth to power.

That was a remarkable feat for a young black girl who spent her first months in prison, then grew up in the dusty townships of South Africa. Throughout her life, she embodied the African’s resiliant spirit to overcome adversity against all odds.

For Makeba, the people, Africa came first. She was never ashamed of her culture. She was proud of it and made African culture cool. She didn’t have to chant the slogan Black is Beautiful. She personified it. She wore it like a royal cloak with subliminal splendour and grace. She said it loudly and silently but without uttering a word.

She paved the road for the current crop of African musicians who are enjoying international fame today.

She was a phenomenal African woman who embraced her Africaness with pride and the dignity of royalty. She serenaded the world with her music and documented the life’s of Africans in the townships of South Africa.

She brought their plight to the world. She was the most vociferous and visible anti-apartheid campaigner for over three decades. She was a civil rights activist and stood for freedom, equal rights and justice all over the world.

She said it best herself when she said, My life, my career, every song I sing and every appearance I make, are bound up with the plight of my people.

She was and will always be a revolutionary musician. It is not enough to love her music. Her legacy should remind us and inspire us to do more to be better people and make the world a better place.

There are those who claim struggle credentials to monopolise power and accumulate wealth in society and conveniently omit the contributions of people like Miriam Makeba who gave of themselves selflessly without care for reward or financial compensation.

These are the true heroes and heroines who we must continue to write about and tell their stories to prevent the collective memory from forgetting. I salute this phenomenal revolutionary musician. May the Makeba spirit live through every one of us through the act of remembering her and impersonating her selfless sacrifice for freedom and justice.

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November 10, 2014 · 4:25 pm

Love Prescription


image

Love can’t be prescribed

Like a doctor prescribes medication.

Take two three times a day

After meals and blah blah blah…



It has no algorithms.

It can’t be programmed.

If reason is the thesis,

Love is the antithesis.

It pulls tongues at science

And holds the middle finger to scientists.

You can’t slice it open

With a scalpel and pinpoint

Its vital and reproductive organs.



It can’t be legislated

Like those draconian

Immorality Acts

In Apartheid South Africa.

Imprison it

And it will

BREAK OUT STRONGER

Than it was ever before,

Bending and breaking bars.



It is what it is.

A wild seed that germinates where it wills

And takes root where it is unexpected

Until one day you see

It blossoming,

Petals unfolding and full of colour.

And you wonder by what alchemy

It grew in such an unusual place.



Love is its own prescription.

The chemical reaction

Taking over your head and heart;

Leaving you giddy and high.

It’s the elixir

Pulsing through the highways

And alternative routes of your body,

Killing the pathogens and viruses

Poisoning your heart and soul.

It restores your sense of balance

And healthy outlook on life.



It is the prescription

Pharmaceuticals can’t monopolise

And make a killing,

Transforming us into

Over the counter addicts.

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BIKO: A LIFE BY XOLELA MANGCU – BIOGRAPHY REVIEW


He was young, gifted and black. He was born to lead. Like most gifted people with a mission to accomplish, he died young. In his short life, Stephen Bantu Biko achieved what many people never achieve in a lifetime. Biko: A Life, recounts this iconic anti-apartheid activist and intellectual revolutionary’s life. This biography comes 36 years after his premature death in 1977; it’s the first in-depth examination of his life.

BikoXolela Mangcu the author was eleven at the time. Like most people who were around in the 1970s, he remembers where he was when the news of Biko’s death broke. He recalls the events of that fateful day; the backlash and ripples that spread internationally, exposing the brutality of apartheid .

Mangcu grew up in the same neighbourhood as Biko in Ginsberg [King William’s Town] and often accompanied him to the Black Community Projects [BCP] such as Zanemplio Health Clinic, Biko ran with Dr. Mamphele Ramphele, Barney Pityana and others.

Biko: A Life, is a timely account that examines the life of Steve in a way no other work has done before. It invokes the philosophies and theories of leading intellectuals and scholars. It interweaves personal testimony with academic and historical texts, letters, newspaper reports, interviews and journal excerpts. Steve’s associates, colleagues, family, friends, community members, political leaders and anti-apartheid activists who were privileged to meet and work with Steve share their memories and insights.

This multifaceted approach provides insight into Steve Biko’s character and life from different perspectives. These fragmented perspectives offer a fuller and rounded picture of a committed, gifted, humble, intelligent and unique individual.

Mangcu’s narrative provides a brief history of South Africa starting with the early San and Khoi Khoi wars of resistance in the 18th and 19th century. He traces the invisible lineages of Xhosa chiefs like Ndlambe and Ngqika, and prophet intellectuals like Nxele and Ntsikana [who followed after the defeat of the Khoi Khoi  and San ] played in the development of Biko’s consciousness.

Mangcu examines Biko’s emergence after the banning of the PAC and ANC, and imprisonment of their leaders such as Robert Sobukwe [founder of the PAC] and Nelson Mandela and others on Robben Island. The framing of the Biko VIInarrative in this manner illustrates the events and individuals that moulded Biko’s growth and political awareness; it also places the struggle against white domination into context.

Although Mangcu was very close to Steve Biko and had a great impact on his life, he steers clear of hero worship. Steve’s flaws and warts are exposed. Mangcu examines his escapades with the cops during his banishment, partying, messy love life, divorce, womanising, heavy drinking caused by the banishment, imprisonment and murder of the friends Biko brought into the various organisations he formed.

However, this doesn’t taint his character. It humanises him and contrasts his flaws with his strengths. A young man with a unique gift of leadership emerges as Father Aelred Stubbs recalled:

 Whereas other leaders tend almost insensibly to become Leaders with a  

  capital L, I never saw any sign at all of this happening with Steve. He 

remained to the end on all fours with us, an example of what we could all 

be, above and beyond us only in his vision, and in the depths of his 

commitment as his death in detention showed.

His wife Ntiski added:

 Steve was, I think, just a gifted person. I always say even the name he 

was given by his parents, Bantu – meaning people – was apt… He was

able to mingle with different ages… So that was his gift, I think, he got it 

from God, so he would be able to work with all sorts of people. 

This gift of his was undeniable then. It is undeniable today. It is everlasting and continues to radiate from beyond the grave as Mangcu illustrates through his thorough analysis of the aftermaths of his legacy in post-apartheid South Biko VAfrica in the final chapters of Biko: A Life.

Mangcu illustrates Biko’s leadership skills didn’t develop in isolation. He examines in depth the esoteric details that inspired Biko to grow in response to his oppressive environment. For example, in April 1963, Lovedale was hit by a student boycott of classes. Khaya Biko, Steve’s older brother, was identified as a ringleader.

The police also uncovered his PAC political activities in Ginsberg and he was consequently charged for being a member of an unlawful organisation POQO [the armed wing of the PAC]. Steve was caught up in the crossfire and expelled for no reason. He later ran away from home to hide at his friend’s house to escape the police. His brother had tried unsuccessfully to get Steve involved in politics. However, the expulsion was the motivation Steve required as Khaya spelt out, “This time the great giant was awakened.”

The biography provides more esoteric details about Steve Biko’s life that were previously unknown. The examination of his early life at school illustrates he was a child prodigy and a prankster. It also shows that Biko came from a relatively poor family and he could hardly afford things like uniforms.

However, that didn’t seem to affect him; he often helped older students than himself who weren’t academically gifted. He was only able to attend school because the people of Ginsberg sent him there; later on in life, he set up the Ginsberg Education Fund in 1975 when he was banned to help students who couldn’t afford to attend university.

The biography provides an insight into the characters that were around Biko while he was growing up. His alumni include Thabo Mbeki, Chris Hani, and Zola Skwekiya who attended Lovedale High School around the same time. By the time Biko left St. Francis College, Mariannhill in Natal, he had developed debating skills and emerged as one of the top political thinkers.

Mangcu chronologically follows this line of enquiry examining Biko’s rise to prominence during his time at the Durban Medical School at the University of Natal Non European Section in 1966. He carries out a detailed analysis of Biko’s involvement in the NUSAS [National Union of South African Students] and the incidents and ideologies that forced Biko to ask questions about non racialism within that structure.

Consequently, Biko and his colleagues eventually created the blacks only SASO [South African Students Organisation]. The biography highlights it was not out of choice but necessity they formed a non white organisation although coloureds and Indians were included in SASO.

Mangcu provides more esoteric details such as the involvement of the church in the creation of SASO; the irony of Biko’s non racial politics but non racial attitude when it came to hitting on white women.

Later on in the narrative, Mangcu conducts a detailed analysis of the events leading to the development of the Black Biko XIIPeople’s Convention [BPC] which was formed to bridge the gap between the black intelligentsia and the rest of the black society: the isolation was a disadvantage to black people as a whole.

Mangcu shows Steve’s role and ability to delegate leadership responsibilities of the various organisations he formed such as the BPC while he worked as the head of publications for SASO. In that role, he penned a regular and influential column under the pseudonym Frank Talk. These essays were later collected under the title I Write What I Like: it remains the most authoritative collection on Black Consciousness.

The biography offers a unique insight into Steve’s life providing an in-depth understanding. For example, Biko was expelled from the University of Natal in 1972 on academic grounds: six years into his studies, he was repeating his third year. This seems to contradict Biko’s academic brilliance as a child prodigy.

However, the biography illustrates Biko’s political activities left him with very little time to concentrate on his studies. His studies in Law during his banishment also suffered the same fate. It reflects his selfless nature: he put others in front of his needs as his wife Ntsiki recalls:

 I married a guy not knowing he was a leader, he was just like any man to

me. But I could see that there was something driving him to want to work

with and for the people. So much that, most of the time, you would find 

that even the family was not coming first… when he got banned in 1973

people would come with problems. There’s money problems or family 

problems. Somebody would come and say “I don’t have money to send 

my child to school”, or “I don’t have food at home”. You know what he 

used to do? He would take our bags and actually empty our bags so

that he gets whatever he wants to help that person. So he was always

wanting to do something for people.

Biko’s commitment to helping people is a recurring refrain in this biography. The biography also unearths some lesser known details about the circumstances that led to Biko’s death. Mangcu examines the events that led to his death such as his ill fated trip and provides several theories about what actually happened.

He also investigates Biko’s elusive quest to unite the ANC, PAC and the BPC into one liberation movement to take on the apartheid  regime. Robert Sobukwe, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela provide interesting insights into Steve’s elusive quest. In Tribute To Stephen Bantu Biko, Mandela alludes to this episode: “He was quietly preparing for a clandestine meeting he was due to hold with Oliver Tambo, the president of the ANC. Mandela continued:

 It now appears certain that the apartheid regime got wind of this. Whether

his death came from an accidental blow or not, they had to kill him to 

prolong the life of apartheid. The very thought of a link up between the 

ANC and the Black Consciousness Movement was unthinkable to the 

apartheid government.

Mangcu quoted Steve’s thoughts taken from I Write What I Like, “I would like to see groups such as the ANC, PAC and Black Consciousness deciding to form one liberation group… I think, when black people are so dedicated and so united in their cause that we can affect the greatest results”.

No one else since Biko ever tried such an audacious undertaking, not even Mandela himself. It was this elusive quest for the unity of the liberation movements that led to Biko’s murder. The security police killed a revolutionary but while his flesh died, his ideas multiplied.

The biography features ten succulent chapters which are supplemented by A Tribute To Stephen Bantu Biko written Biko IVby Nelson Mandela, a preface and an epilogue. It not only provides you with amazing insights into Biko’s life and the circumstances that shaped him, but Mangcu also provides a reflection of post apartheid South Africa and how Biko’s leadership helped shaped current South Africa and the continuing impact of his legacy.

Biko’s wife, Ntsiki, provides an insight into that legacy, “He produced mayors and some of them are working in government”. Mangcu admits, “Outside my family, no single individual shaped my life in the way that Steve Biko did”.

Others like Thoko Mbaniswa went on to become the commissioner at the Independent Electoral Commission; Mtobhi who received help from the Ginsberg Education Fund set up by Biko became the first director general of sport in Mandela’s government  and a senior executive at Vodacom. Another recipient of that fund was Sipheto Mlonyeni who studied at Fort Hare and is now a practising attorney.

The list is endless. Today, many youths within South Africa, Africa and across the world claim validity for their ideas by proclaiming a lineage to Biko or cite him as their inspiration. This partly explains why his image today is as iconic as that of late revolutionaries like Malcolm X; Captain Thomas Sankara’, Che Guevara, Amilcar Cabral and Patrice Lumumba.

His image is awash on social media such as Facebook and Twitter proving his legacy is accruing currency to a new generation who were not yet born when he died but find his Black Consciousness philosophy still relevant today.

Mangcu elaborates this point which kind of explains why the youth today look to their past and Biko and his Black Consciousness philosophy in the same manner Steve Biko looked to the past for his inspiration to fight the struggle against racism and apartheid:

 Steve believed that it was primarily because of the institutionalisation

of these privileges that white people were unlikely to listen to moral 

suasion. I have elsewhere argued that although Nelson Mandela 

played a pivotal role in ensuring our transition to democracy, he

nonetheless left us with the unfinished business of racism. Biko’s 

challenge of the psychological freedom from racism was therefore

left unaddressed by even the greatest political icon of the 20th 

century.

Mandela noted Biko’s message of psychological emancipation in his tribute:

 Living, he was a spark that lit a veld fire across South Africa. His

message to the youth and students was simple and clear: Black is

Beautiful! Be proud of your blackness! And with that he inspired our

youth to shed themselves of the sense of inferiority they were born

into as a result of more than three centuries of white rule. Assert

yourselves and be self reliant! With that he ignited a passion in the 

youth and they walked tall.

No other leader in Africa has inspired the youth with a philosophy of psychological emancipation. The relevance of Biko’s teaching partly explains why his collection of essays – I Write What I Like – remains a best seller today, 36 years after his demise.

Biko: A Life, is an inspired biography because it comes at a pivotal moment when Africans are looking for inspirational leadership within Africa. It also provides a detailed and intimate examination into Stephen Bantu Biko’s life, providing a greater understanding of this intellectual revolutionary and pivotal figure.

Not only is it an important historical document, but it is the perfect study aid for emerging leaders, politicians, revolutionaries and thinkers of the future.

The resurgence of Biko’s Black Consciousness philosophy among the youth reinforces Thomas Sankara’s words, “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”

The nation lost a great leader who would have been a formidable force in post apartheid South Africa which is inflicted with the Big Chief and Technocratic Syndrome today and facing a crisis in leadership. Steve Biko’s leadership is missed today. That is the greatest tragedy and this biography does an excellent job illustrating that point.

Biko XNelson Mandela’s Tribute to Stephen Bantu Biko which opens the biography reinforces Biko’s relevance and greatness, “Steve lives on in the galaxy of brave and courageous leaders who helped shape democratic South Africa. May we never cease celebrating Steve Biko.”

Biko: A Life, restores Steve in the publics’ consciousness. It is a celebration of this brave and courageous leader. It is so good it leaves you wanting to know more about this legendary and charming figure. This is a collector’s item for Black Consciousness scholars, emerging leaders and those who want to know more about Steve Biko. It will transform your understanding and perspective of this monumental figure.

Biko: A Life by Xolela Mangcu is a brilliant biography. Order your copy now from www.ibtauris.com or Amazon.

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